Say “Shibori” and images of saturated deep indigo cotton against crisp white fields come to mind. But the Japanese Shibori technique of resist dyeing that we love works beautifully with other colors, too – notably rich, vibrant reds.  And what better way to celebrate Valentine’s day at your table or in your lunch box than with a burst of happy red punctuated by bursts of white dots, squares and “blossoms”?

In the name of a quick mid-winter color boost we rolled up our sleeves last week and made a batch of cotton napkins using three different, quick Shibori folds. The results are a nice mix of contrasting designs: A very Japanese feeling delicate repeat of dots, geometric squares, and a Rorschach test image that we read as floral, or even better, hearts.

If you want to give it a try, here are the directions and list of materials. But if you’d like to see our results and experience them for yourself, we are offering a very limited edition collection of red Shibori napkin 4 pc sets for sale at our store,

Lastly, if you have any Shibori tips or tricks to share, please do leave a comment below. We find that Shibori is a process with many variables which we’re still discovering and enjoying. We’d love to learn from you!

Happy Creative Valentine’s Day all!


(Most of these specialty materials can be purchased at

100% cotton napkins – we used 22″ x 22″ white cotton bandanas
Textile reactive dye – Fire Red
Commercial detergent
Soda ash fixer
Rubber gloves
Rubber bands
Clean wooden blocks 2″ x 2″ (1 per napkin)
Binder clips (4 per napkin)
Clean/new wooden laundry clips (12-14 per napkin)
1 dust mask
1 plastic bucket
Garbage bags
1 Gallon ziplock bags (several)
1 quart Ball jar

How To’s

Prepare napkins: Wash white napkins using commercial detergent. Remove from washer. Put on your dust mask. Prepare soda ash fixer: Add one cup of soda ash fixer to 1 gallon of water in your plastic bucket. Stir to dissolve. Soak napkins for 15 minutes. Squeeze out excess so napkins are damp, not dripping.

Mix the dye: Put on your dust mask, rubber gloves and old clothes. Measure dye, urea and water into plastic bucket. Use chart below for quantities of each ingredient. Stir really well until dissolved. You do not want ANY chunks of dye remaining.

Water dye  dye* dye** urea
1 cup 2 tsp 4stp 8 tsp 1 Tbsp
1 pint 4 tsp 8 tsp 5 Tbsp 2 Tbsp
1 quart 8 tsp 5 Tbsp 2/3 cup 1/4 cup
  • Note: Look on the dye label. If there is a * following the color name, refer to the chart for dye quantities

Folding How-To’s (see pictures above)

Dotted Pattern –  Fold napkin in half, then create 1.5″ sections according fold, until you have a simple 1.5″ strip of folded napkin. Apply laundry pins in a staggered pattern up each side – the more pins, the more white dots.

“Flower” pattern – Accordion fold napkin in large 4″ in folds. The fold the resulting strip in triangle folds (as folding a flag). Clamp the resulting triangle with binder clips at each corner and on long side.

Square pattern – Fold napkin in according fold beginning in one corner, so that you are folding the napkin on the diagonal. The result is a long folded strip that resembles a rolled/folded bandana. Starting at one end, accordion fold into 3.5″ chunks until you have a block of fabric. Sandwich block between two 3″ blocks and secure well with rubber bands.

For more detailed information and Shibori how to’s see our earlier post about Shibori techniques here.

Apply Dye to Napkins

Cover your work surface with a waterproof tarp or newspapers. Have a garbage bag beside you ready to put your dipped napkins in to set. Set up a work bin (we used a 2′ x 1′ clear plastic bin from IKEA) with 2 open ziplock bags inside. Inside the first sits the Ball jar with dye mixture. The second gallon ziplock is your work bag where you will hold napkins as you dye them, catching the excess dye in the bag. Pour or ladle dye onto folded and prepared napkins, one at a time, being sure to saturate both sides of the napkin completely. Put dyed napkins into clean plastic garbage bag, seal and let sit 12-48 hours. The longer the time the richer the color.

Rinse + Wash

Rinse napkins 2-3 times under cool water as you remove blocks, clips and bands. Wash napkins in a hot cycle with 1/2 tbs. professional textile detergent. If white areas are not bright white, try repeating the wash cycle. Tumble dry.






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